Near the border with Fermanagh, the lively town of CLONES (pronounced “clo-nez”) lies 20km southwest of Monaghan town, overlooking drumlin country from its hilltop perch. St Tiernach founded a monastery here in the sixth century and is supposedly buried in a reliquary stone coffin in a small graveyard off Ball Alley Lane, near which are the remains of a ninth-century round tower which was originally five storeys high. The monastic settlement was subsequently superseded by an Augustinian foundation and the sparse remains of the abbey are just a little way to the east, across MacCurtain Street. The town’s other significant relic is a richly carved high cross, which stands in the Diamond, somewhat overshadowed by the sombre shape of St Tiernach’s Church (Church of Ireland). The cross’s front panels depict scriptural scenes, such as the Garden of Eden, while the reverse is devoted to scenes from Christ’s life.
Just west of the town centre, above Cara Street, is the site of a Neolithic hill fort, which was used as the foundations for a short-lived twelfth-century Norman castle that was razed to the ground by local chieftains. Indeed the English did not regain control of Clones until 1601 and much of the contemporary town owes its layout to that period, while the presence of both Presbyterian and Methodist churches (John Wesley preached here several times in the 1770s) bears testament to the Plantation. In the nineteenth century prosperity arrived in Clones via the railways and the Ulster Canal, which connected Belfast to Lough Erne. At the bottom of Cara Street stands the Ulster Canal Stores, which at one time served as the distribution centre for wares arriving in Clones by water. Nowadays it houses small displays on the railways, lace-making and independence (Clones was a strong Republican base), as well as works by local artists.